Right. That took a bit, didn’t it?
As this list continues to surge up my ‘most read’ posts, I figure I should continue this countdown before I lost any more interest.
Now into the top half of this list. We’re getting into the territory of some of my favorites, even though there are a few ‘I’m remiss if I don’t include this one’ shows in this portion of the list.
But luckily, we’re starting with a sentimental favorite…
Host: Peter Andre
Captains: Phill & Noel Fielding
Panelists: Tony Law, Jason Gardiner, Ana Matronic, Charles Cave
Like James Blunt, I completely misjudged Peter Andre upon his guest hosting-stint. I thought that just because he SEEMED like a talentless, fame-grubbing celeb, he’d come off like one as well. Not even remotely true. This was several years after I’m A Celebrity brought him back, and a few years after he’d sort of gone back to earth. This was a humbler, smarter Peter Andre. One who could make fun of himself.
…and thank god for that, or else it would have been a slog. The whole show, Peter had copious amounts of ITV cameramen following him for an upcoming reality show, talking right to them a few times. He also was able to laugh at himself, as after about 30 seconds of his IAC-assisted hit Insania, he pleaded for someone to turn it off. Additionally, he was able to jump in and school Phill and Ana about how to properly do his song’s intro, he brought on Bubbla Ranks for ID Parade, and he was able to grin and bear it when someone, namely Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic, made a crack at his ex-girlfriend.
But even with him, and his autocue reads, you still had an insanely relaxed panel. Jason Gardiner may have been one of the most laid-back and charismatic guests they’d had on in a while, Ana Matronic was hysterical in her debut Buzzcocks appearance, and…Tony Law…one of my favorite guests of this era…was wonderful. As if he’d be anything less. Some of his stuff is so bizarre, but he’s got this insanely wholesome quality about him which DEFINITELY shows up in this one.
Andre ran a tight ship, the panel was hysterical and was able to branch out, and by the end, when Ana was riling off Ice Ice Baby lyrics like scripture, everything came together in a really fun way. Definitely a favorite of mine.
Best Moment: Oh, I dunno…the entire Insania round that Peter introduces, where he can’t even get through a question because people keep responding to “Who am I?” [“PETER!”]
Host: Simon Amstell
Captains: Phill & Bill Bailey
Panelists: Dale Winton, Moby, David O’Doherty, Jamelia
Right. Another American television metaphor to explain why I like this one so much.
In 1977, actor Charles Grodin hosted Saturday Night Live. You probably have seen Grodin in something [Midnight Run, The Great Muppet Caper, Heaven Can Wait, Beethoven, etc], but know that his schtick in this era was being the out-of-touch middle-aged guy who didn’t really understand a lot of modern innovations. So, he proceeded to use this character on this SNL episode. How, you might ask? By breaking character in several sketches due to not understanding how the show works, or that the show was being taped live, or that there were rehearsals. He came off like someone completely immune to this modern comedy, but in a way that seemed to pick apart all of the flaws and intricacies of the show.
Grodin did this intentionally, working with the writers, and it came off terrifically, to the point where to this day, people think he wasn’t putting on an act.
I feel like Charles Grodin would have appreciated Moby’s performance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Because it was essentially the same thing. Moby has this personality of being kind of out-of-touch, and he spent most of the show generally confused by how Simon was running things…and yet he used this dissonance for the sake of humor, rather than to take other people out of the show. Like Grodin, Moby was lawfully funny while at the same time contrasting with the show’s clientele. It’s what Arthur Smith did for years without effort.
Imagine for a moment, this show without Moby; Dale Winton is Phill’s guest and has a segment devoted to him, and is gleefully ridiculed by Simon. Jamelia and David O’Doherty are Bill’s team, and they only have things to work off of, as not a ton of humor comes unintentionally from them. Simon is trying to cram material in for the compilation, so he’s trying to make entertaining moments happen. And Bill Bailey is leaving the show after this episode.
Alone, sans-Moby, this show sounds kind of self-indulgent, a lot like every other Simon show of this era. It’s the kind of show that needs an oomph, or some element that brings the humor forward rather than keeping it contained. And Moby…yes, ‘Natural Blues’ Moby…was the one to bring it forward, by letting the audience in on how preposterous this show had become.
Yes, the Winton slams were fantastic enough, but if it weren’t for Moby pulling the ‘Dale please stand’ card up to the camera, it would have felt less staged- the point, and the source of the humor, was that it WAS kind of staged. Plus, early on David makes a joke about how his hair is essentially one big piece, which is funny enough on its own…but then Moby COMPLETELY INVERTS it as a way of saying David was rubbing it in towards Moby, a bald guy.
Even Simon’s ‘compilation fodder’ runner sort of backfires, despite some great shots of Jamelia throwing breakaway bottles at Bill. A live chicken is released onset, and instead of causing chaos…the chicken walks right toward Moby, the noted vegan and environmentalist, and behaves for the rest of his time onstage. I’m not saying Moby is responsible for all the good jokes in this one: I’m just saying he made the best jokes stronger.
Otherwise, this is a lawful, great show. ID Parade has 10 Blazing Squad options. Moby and Phill’s intros are great. Next Lines ends on Dale getting the entire audience to do the Supermarket Sweep slogan. It’s a generally solid show, just made even funnier by Moby deconstructing the whole program as it runs.
Best Moment: After Simon asks Jamelia about her shampoo: “I hate when you ask me questions because I know you’re gonna come up with some horrible bitchy punchline at the end of it…”
Simon, smirking: “Shit…I’ve been found out.”
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Sean Hughes
Panelists: Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Jayne Middlemiss, Sean Cullen, Ken McAlpine
Buzzcocks is one of those shows where you can watch episodes out of order, if you want, but there are some running gags or insult targets that’ll just pop up out of nowhere. Somebody watching Series 7 and 8 of the show, without seeing the early stuff, would probably ask “gee, why the hell is Mark Lamarr taking so much of the mick at Sophie Ellis-Bextor”
…this episode is why.
Series 4 may have been an all-time high for episode-long runners, with a MAJOR one in E1, minor ones in episodes 4, 5 and 6, and…this one. But one of the things about these runners is that you could tell when one had just been extended enough, and you can tell when one is overstaying its welcome. At the penultimate playing of ‘Heath and Danger’, Vic Reeves gives a teeth-gritting, ‘enough of this already’ look to the camera. As funny as that runner was (and believe me, we will get there), it seemed to go on for too long.
And the same could be said for this show’s runner: Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s mom used to be a host of Blue Peter, so the whole show, everyone (especially Mark) is making Blue Peter jokes. True, they are well-thought-out Blue Peter jokes (like Mark showing a photo of his pet turtle, with ‘Puff Daddy’ engraved onto his shell), but they just…keep coming. And from all sides, too: Sean Hughes (and even Sean Cullen) start joining in on her panel.
The difference between this Sophie abuse and whenever Mark would gang up on…say…Chris Moyles…is that Sophie didn’t exactly deserve it. She was a very lawful, fun panelist who cracked some nice jokes and WOULD HAVE had a good time, had it not been for the onslaught of Blue Peter jokes. At least when Moyles complained of not having a good time, he deserved it. But Sophie, by the end, seemed annoyed with the constant bashings, to the point where I don’t think she enjoyed herself.
…and then Mark continued to make fun of her on the program. She only came back on the show once Simon Amstell was hosting, and somehow HE was nicer.
Still, it wasn’t the kind of abuse that left a sour taste in anyone else’s mouth, really. The rest of the show was a ton of fun, with comedy naturally arising out of rounds, like Jayne and Phill’s intros, Sean’s entire Freeze Frame round, featuring the clip of Mystic Merlin, and even Phill’s Freeze Frame round, which has one of my favorite successions of lines in the show’s history:
Phill: “Basically, what happens next: The hippie movement imploded with the end of the Vietnam war. And, the eventual Watergate Scandal and the collapse of the Nixon administration, led to a number of feeble, left wing administrations, which led to a strengthening of the right-”
Mark: ‘No-no, I meant what happens next in this video.”
Phill: “Oh, oh, right. Does the fat bird fall over?”
Also, special nod to Sean Cullen, friend of the Mochries and Canadian unsung hero, for boosting material just by sitting next to Sean. A very funny guy that could have done another Buzzcocks if he wanted to.
Best Moment: Phill and Mark have an entire argument about whether or not Phill gave Ken a hint in Intros, which ends with a stuffed monkey being thrown about the stage.
Host: Simon Amstell
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: Bill Oddie, Stewart Lee, Tony Mortimer, Jason Pebworth
Three episodes into Simon Amstell’s tenure on NMTB, skeptics were fearing the worst. True, Simon was biting as hell, but the panels felt limp and the guest bookings felt uninspired. Going into this one, it seemed more of the same: two fringe music has-beens, an old comedy mainstay, and…a comedian that was only doing panel shows to pay for his wedding. It didn’t seem like much. BUT…here is where the Simon Amstell era really took off.
…and all it took was former Goodie and Springwatch presenter Bill Oddie to go batshit insane over the course of a 30 minute episode.
Not…in an unwatchable way, though. In a very lawfully-batty way. Like, Oddie played the game, made funny comments…but after a while, Oddie started losing comprehension, and started getting more and more confused about how Intros worked, and how the game worked. And he just kept getting more and more animated about how lost he was. Meanwhile, Simon and the panel could only do their best to keep him in line (“SHOOSH ODDIE!”), and Bill, thank god, is insanely patient, but it just turned into the ‘let’s watch Bill Oddie have a meltdown’ show.
Which…doesn’t sound funny. I mean, one episode later Amy Winehouse (who, fun fact, was supposed to be on this episode) has a meltdown of her own, but there’s NOTHING funny about that. Here, not only does Bill Oddie have SOME self-awareness amidst the battiness, but the rest of the panel is there to bounce off this. ESPECIALLY Stewart Lee, who was on fire during this show, and had some very funny lines at Oddie’s expense.
And even despite that, Simon’s show running hit its stride, with a very funny digressive round ‘Diva or Beaver’ (the reaction shots of which will always crack me up), as well as a plethora of hats to annoy Orson’s Jason Pebworth with, and just some really good show-running lines and asides. Here, Simon felt confident, fresh, and up for anything, including Bill Oddie going nuts. And this didn’t seem to faze him either, nor did it seem to faze Bill or Phill.
An odd show…but still an effective show. Ironically, that’s how I’d describe #26 as well.
Best Moment: Stewart, after the umpteenth Bill Oddie distraction: “The only way to edit tonight’s episode is not with sharp cuts, but with a series of long, slow fades.”
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Sean
Panelists: Pete Burns, Christian O’Connell, Kerry Katona, Ashley Taylor Dawson
Typically when something wild happens in a taping, like Huey Morgan smashing a mug, Preston walking off, or Mark whapping Bill in the head with his cards, it happens towards the end. So you can get a taste of how the show normally works, and so that it can eventually devolve into madness, and then recover.
That’s how it’s supposed to go.
So imagine my surprise when a Pete Burns argument that I knew was coming happened LITERALLY IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE SHOW. And not even one concerning his team, too: Mark was explaining Phill’s Jon Bon Jovi question, and Pete Burns starts arguing because he thought his guess of ‘they were caught shagging’ was correct. Which…it wasn’t. It’s not like an Angus Deayton thing where he calls it incorrect because it wasn’t his phrasing of the question. I genuinely don’t think Mark had it on the card that Bon Jovi was caught screwing someone in an ice rink, but Pete Burns really, REALLY SEEMED TO THINK SO.
And so, with this clapped-out, over-operated 80s has-been sniping at him in literally the first round…Mark Lamarr proceeds to spend the entire show giving him shit about it. Like, 95% of the episode is the show trying to recover from that opening argument, and…kinda failing when Pete Burns does something else, like accost Sean Hughes when he doesn’t do the right thing in Intros. There’s no real recovery. The rest of the show is just…the Pete Burns show.
…and it’s frigging hysterical. Because unlike a lot of other meltdowns we’ve seen, it’s not an especially sad, drastic one. He’s just being difficult. It’s not like Bill Oddie or Amy Winehouse, where sanity’s been lost. Pete Burns was just being a prick, and being himself, and…the show had to go on. And…that it did.
Once the Burns incident happened, anyone else who might be a punchline, like Kerry Katona and Ashley Taylor Dawson, shifted into safe mode. And yes, Mark had some fun with Kerry’s recent marriage to Brian McFadden, and Ashley’s claim that Robert DeNiro should play him in a movie, but both of them were clearly not the main target anymore. It’s entirely just Pete Burns stuff, ands thankfully it’s funny. Hell, at one point, Sean just ditches intros to operate a camera. At least Pete was bringing out the best in everyone.
Just a wild show, and definitely a classic.
Best Moment: This line:
Pete: “I think children all over the world will go to bed tonight…learning something from us.”
Mark: “…not to watch Buzzcocks next week?”
Host: Rhod Gilbert
Captains: Phill & Noel
Panelists: Paloma Faith, Loyd Grossman, Charlie Simpson and Katherine Ryan
On iMDB, I think this is one of the lowest-rated Buzzcocks episodes, thanks to the low general opinion of Rhod Gilbert’s hosting stint. I’ve done my best to defend Rhod’s run best that I could, and I found myself laughing hard of several of his episodes, even if his hosting style would be way too strict occasionally.
Plus, people cite that they resorted to too many gimmicks, and got away from the heart of the show. It felt at times like Buzzcocks was trying too hard. Which is fair.
And then we have 25×08, which was wild without much intervention. It just had four guests that were great at interacting, a ton of really fun, genuine moments, and the image of gastronome Loyd Grossman squirming while taking a whipped cream shot. Trying too hard my ass. This panel completely annihilated any attempt at over-exaggerating the show’s charm.
First of all, since I haven’t had any chances to say this during this countdown, Paloma Faith was the single best panelist of the Guest Host era. She just was. Not only is she a talented singer, but she was bonkers in a way that perfectly complimented not only the show, but Noel. So having her and Noel together one last time was wonderful, as was she. Loyd collaborated with those two a ton, and all three were having a fantastic time, even with the whipped-cream bra, and the random slice of lemon drizzle cake leading to Paloma getting a part of her costume stuck in it, and Rhod deducting a point. Even if this was engineered, it couldn’t have been orchestrated to land this wildly.
And that’s not to say that Phill’s panel, of Katherine Ryan and Charlie Simpson, was bad. God no. Charlie was his usual posh, kinda aloof self, and managed to block Phill from taking a bite of the cake. Katherine did her usual panel show stuff, which helps. And Phill had a ton of good, lawful, lines. But this wasn’t a lawful show. Shit went mad. One of the options in ID Parade was a live rabbit, and Noel actually picked it [Paloma: “I LOVE YOU FOR THAT!”]
This show got so wild that Rhod, in a visual clue, brought his dog Rosie onstage, some of the cards got messed up, Phill switched teams, and Katherine spent the entire Next Lines round picking cards off the floor to hand to Rhod. The show damn near got broken…and it was delightful. At the time I called this the most wholesome Buzzcocks show, and that’s not too far off. It’s an insanely feel-good show, and it may be the last great NMTB show they did.
So…all of y’all can have opinions about the Rhod shows, but I liked a few of them. In fact, there’s one in my top ten. So there.
Rhod, loud sigh: “CAN WE HAVE A LOOK AT THE RABBIT’S SHOES.”
Noel: “Better not be DMs.”
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill & Bill
Panelists: Fearne Cotton, Steve Frost, Pete Tong & Chris Park
There are two specific shows on this list that only work because of their last half. Like, oh, the first half is fine, there are funny moments, but there is one specific moment that elevates things to a level that the show can’t come back from.
This is one of those shows. Because it starts off as a fairly normal show. Pete Tong says some funny things. Fearne and Bill have a funny Intros round. Steve is hilarious. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
So what pushes this to the next level, exactly? I mean….I wish it was something less lowest-common-denominator, but…a bunch of people show up in food costumes and stand in front of Phill Jupitus.
Yeah. That’s it.
From an entire bit with Phill Jupitus openly lusting after two ID Parade members dressed as food, we’re off to the races. Because we have that entire bit, then we have Phill’s entire Next Lines, which is also food related, and causes him to just yell the ‘KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN AND A PIZZA HUT’ lyric after everything [“What do you see when you turn out the light?” “KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN AND A PIZZA HUT”]
And just when you think Phill’s gonna win the whole show, Bill steals it from him in HIS Next Lines round, by just going off on a ridiculous bit about elephant’s ears after Mark keeps picking on Fearne with children’s songs, and then ending with a soulful Judy Tzueke rendition.
But why does it work? And why does it make me laugh so hard? Yeah, that’s why this countdown is working, the analytical bits, because it’s not just recap. That’d be passe.
It works because Mark had already asked if his heart had gone out of this series, you could tell we were teetering on the verge of Mark not caring anymore, and we needed a wild show to cement that Buzzcocks could still do big things. Also, the second half worked because the entire first half was building to it. Chris and Phill’s banter pays off in ID Parade. Fearne and Mark’s pays off in Next Lines. Bill’s already shaken because Mark called him out in Intros for noises that weren’t in the song. Everything was simmering, and then in the second half it all just comes to life and doesn’t stop. And I love shows like that.
Only one other show has a kind of simmering like that, and it’s coming up. But this one is just a blast, just for that second half, and for Bill just coming out of nowhere in Next Lines.
Best Moment: “We’re going to the zoo…zoo…zoo.”
Bill: “…..TO LOOK AT THE EARS. EARS. EARS…”
Host: Dermot O’Leary
Captains: Phill & Noel
Panelists: Michael Ball, Russell Tovey, Aston Merrygold & David O’Doherty
Two straight Guest Host picks now, and i’m going for two different approaches. This one works because of a host that could stand out, and make an insanely big show pop during a season of basic ones. Because Dermot O’Leary knows how to present a big show, and dammit, he’s gonna do that everywhere he goes.
The thing is, like Peter Andre, Dermot completely undid a lot of the expectations of being fake and autocue friendly, and came off as insanely loose and fun, challenging Aston Merrygold to do a backflip midshow, embracing the spontaneity of sound effects and mishaps, and even poking fun at Jedward, a duo he himself helped introduce to the world.
Plus, the show was peppered with Peter Dickson VOs of all the contestants [RUSSELL TOVEY!], and it gave a very theatrical, epic feel to it. Not that it didn’t already, with David O’Doherty and his panda jokes already contributing to a fun atmosphere, and Phill and Michael Ball getting along famously with an epic intro of Superstar from Jesus Christ Superstar [to which Russell, smirkingly, guesses “…West Side Story.”
What makes this show feel so classic is the fact that Dermot himself is very laid back as a host, and he just gives this comfortable, insanely fun vibe to the whole thing, so that even with the aforementioned backflip stunt he suckers Aston into, it still feels like it’s just for some laughs. Every punchline feels bigger with Peter Dickson accentuating it. In the heat of an uncertain, hostless season, the show finally felt strong and satisfactory.
Best Moment: Dermot sets Phill’s team up for a Next Line from Hairspray’s ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. Michael AND Phill both have played the part of Edna Turnblad. So both, in unison, do the next SEVERAL LINES, complete with choreography. It’s a satisfying-ass moment.
Host: Russell Howard
Captains: Phill and Noel
Panelists: Stacey Solomon, Conor Maynard, Lethal Bizzle, Isy Suttie
Season 27’s a weird one in terms of the Guest Host era, because you could tell that now, more than ever, they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel with guest bookings. John Hannah from the Mummy films? Sure. Kristen Schaal? Fine. Rizzle Kicks? Just keep them away from Huey Morgan.
One of the few true comic bookings they tried in S27, and Jack Whitehall doesn’t count because he’s not funny, was Russell Howard, the former NMTB panelist and current TV personality. I’ve said many times that Russell was the closest we ever got to having Mark Lamarr back, and I stand by it.
Russell is, at his heart, a kid humorist, and a lot of his jokes are kind of cute, not exactly sophisticated. Like the Seth Meyers of the UK. Perhaps he got better after Mock the Week, but that’s the sense I got from him. What he was always good at, though, was pointing out satirical things that happened in real time, like pointing out whenever Frankie would try a mood change, or interacting with an audience member. Russell was quick on his feet, was good at improv, and knew when to interact with something.
And all throughout this episode, he interacted and fought back against this show. Stacey Solomon biffs an animal impersonation early? He keeps COMING BACK TO HER FOR MORE ANIMAL IMPRESSIONS, and makes it one of the lasting jokes of the show [I still laugh at him, in his David Attenborough, going ‘HERE WE HAVE THE MIGHTY BEAR. STACEY?’]. Lethal Bizzle have a ridiculous comeback tweet? Ridicule him about it throughout the 2nd half. It doesn’t come off like the usual ‘interrupt the game to screw with people’ stuff we’d see a lot in this era, it came off more natural, like ‘I genuinely want to know about this’. A lot like Mark would do.
And yet through this environment we had some of the strongest autocue reads and jokes of this era, some of the funniest joke runs of this era [the entire round with Noel’s team and Shakira, John Lennon and the sea lion has SO MANY funny lines], and some of the silliest lawful malapropisms [Stacey’s David Bowie miscommunication is right up there with Toyah Wilcox’s JFK confusion]. So from all of this, I have to assume that Russell Howard is just really good at leading a panel environment, and genuinely good at hosting things.
Just one of those funny shows I go back to a lot. Plus, like all Stacey Solomon shows, she gets made fun of yet still has a good time!
Best Moment: What’s that in the bin? Is it a FOX? STACEY?
Host: Mark Lamarr
Captains: Phill and Sean
Panelists: Junior Simpson, Faye Tozer, Sara Cox, Glen Matlock
When I initially did this watchdown, there were a few episodes that were missing from the youtube playlist I was using. The very first one was this one, 5×02. And I was confused, and kind of betrayed, and went onto the next one.
Well, 5×03 is directly influenced by this one, and the ID Parade featured a wide-eyed, staring black man named Athelston. I had no idea why there was recognition applause. I just knew something was funny, and Phill, Sean and Mark were goofing around, acting like he was hypnotizing them. It was genuinely hysterical, and one of those moments where I figured out how deliberate and silly this show could be.
Eventually I found out that 5×02 directly set it up, and found a rip of it, and it all made sense.
To this point, the show itself is pretty funny, actually. Junior Simpson has his best showing here, and his impressions of his dad, and his manic energy and laughing upon realizing Faye and Sean just tried to do Gangsta’s Paradise, were all memorable. It was also just a fun environment with Sara Cox cracking jokes, and Faye getting along really well with Mark. There’s also a legendary Mark autocue joke involving John Lennon that…nothing can prepare you for.
But then, halfway through the show, Athelston shows up, in a lineup for Edwin Starr. And nobody knows what to think of him. Sean absolutely loves him. Junior’s horrified. Sean keeps going back to how lovely he is, even as they have to guess, and even if Sean KNOWS who Edwin Starr is. The lines they roll off here about Athelston [my favorite is Sean going “They probably said to him before he went out ‘now don’t move, just stay where you are’, and he said ‘I’VE GOT YA!”], are all classic, and just progressively get funnier, even as Edwin himself implores Athelston to finally move.
Thanks to this show, Athelston would be a welcome presence in any ID Parade [even appearing in one for the Nolans], and even the rest of the show, where Mark and Sean are still shaken by him, and keep referencing it. It’s the kind of moment that offsets the tranquility and affects not only the rest of the show, but the rest of the series.
I knew then, upon finally watching this show, why it was so important in 5×03, and the rest of the show. No longer is Buzzcocks just a normal quiz show. There are other variables at play.
Best Moment: When Mark announces the real Edwin Starr, and “just to set my mind at ease, would #3 also step forward?”
Hopefully the next part of this won’t take as much time, as we’re getting into the Top 20. I should tease that the next 10 entries include two appearances by one of my comedy heroes, two pop-chart icons, and a guy named Al dressed as a pirate.